No-fault divorces under consideration in plans for major reforms

Plans for no-fault divorce are under consideration (Anthony Devlin/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Divorce laws are set for a major shake-up, with proposals for no-fault separations under consideration.

Justice Secretary David Gauke is expected to launch a consultation on plans for reform after previously saying he wanted a “less antagonistic” system.

Under the current law in England and Wales, unless people can prove there was adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without their spouse’s agreement is to live apart for five years.

The Ministry of Justice refused to confirm or deny reports about the details of the consultation, but Mr Gauke has said there was a “strong” case for reform.

Tini Owens’ failure to win a legal battle to divorce husband Hugh has intensified calls for reform Credit: PA Wire/PA

In May he told The Times: “The more I look at it the more I am concerned that the current system does create a degree of unnecessary antagonism in an already difficult and sensitive set of circumstances.”

On Thursday ministers confirmed the law was being examined.

Government spokeswoman Baroness Vere of Norbiton told peers: “We are looking at ways to reduce conflict in a divorce, whether that can be no-fault, whether that can be under financial provisions, whether that can be for enforceable nuptial agreements.”

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: “Labour is fully committed to introducing no-fault divorce proceedings.

“Instead of yet another consultation, the Conservatives should get on with changing our divorce laws so that they are fit for the 21st century.”

Fiona Snowdon, family law expert at Simpson Millar, said: “We are absolutely delighted to hear that the Government is set to announce a consultation on no-fault divorce.

“UK divorce law has not been updated in almost 50 years, and as such is archaic, outdated and incompatible with the 21st century.

“Divorce can be a painful, drawn out experience. A no-fault divorce would inject some much needed autonomy and practicality into the process.”

She added: “This announcement suggests that we are finally moving in the right direction, and we could not be more pleased.”

Pressure for reform has intensified after Tini Owens lost a legal battle to divorce her husband.

She had told the Supreme Court that her 40-year marriage to Hugh Owens was “loveless” and “broken down” and she said she wanted a divorce.

She said he had behaved unreasonably and said she should not reasonably be expected to stay married.

But Mr Owens had refused to agree to a divorce, justices heard, and denied Mrs Owens’s allegations about his behaviour.

The Supreme Court ruled against her in July, but Lord Wilson said justices had come to the ruling “with reluctance”.

He said the “question for Parliament” was whether the law governing “entitlement to divorce” remained “satisfactory”.